2012 has been a beauty of a year for music. It’s been such a corker that creating an end of year list has been a stressful, brain busting challenge. I can’t even say this is the final definite list, especially with the top 3, whose order I kept changing around. However, I guess now it’s posted, this is it. The Was Ist Das? 2012 list. 12 albums and 12 others.
1.Swans – The Seer
Been following Swans now for twenty years and they still continue to surprise and amaze me. “The Seer” would seem to count as the motherlode. Albums that justifiably take up the entiriety of two CDs are a rare thing but here one is. An enormous album but you would not take a thing off it. It forced you to make time for it.
One of those albums that somehow fuses disparate musical elements (cosmic jazz, psyche rock, world music) and then somehow pulls it off as though it were the most natural, logical thing in the world (I guess it must be). Perhaps the most startling thing is how authentic and vivid it all sounds. It virtually erupts out of the speakers.
3.Carlton Melton – Photos of Photos
It’s been an amazing year for Carlton Melton. I’ve been championing them ever since their first album was sent here and 2012 has felt like a really vindicating year. There was the mighty “Smoke Drip” twelve inch (included as bonus tracks on the CD version of this album) and then came this. The album is a perfectly distilled essence of Carlton Melton with two tracks of loud psychedelic rock and two tracks of tripped-out, smoked-out otherworldy elevated guitar ascensions.
4.Bonnie Prince Billy & The Trembling Bells – The Marble Downs
If I ruled the world, I’d make Billy join the Trembling Bells on a permanent basis. The Bells lead the way in sparky, psychedelic folk with the wittiest lyrics and dragging in Billy to duet with Lavinia Blackwall makes the best boy/girl vocal pairing since Lee & Nancy. The songs get stuck in your head and they make great head guests.
5.Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent
A suprisingly album that saw Ben Chasny weave his usual cosmic folk magic but with an extra twist of heavy psyche rock thanks to his old Comets On Fire buddies coming along to make this an album you can really sink your teeth into. It’s not all full firepower though, there is still time for some of those cherished space hymns for which he is known.
6.The Congos / Sun Araw / M Geddes Gedras – Icon Give Thanks
Two talented young L.A. producers flew out to Jamaica to make an album with reggae legends The Congos. The results were simply magical and uplifting, putting the soul into digital. Casting sunshine into even the darkest, rainiest of days, “Icon Give Thanks” is the perfect prescription for the spirit.
7.Bardo Pond – Yntra
Ohhhh, the riffs, the riffs! Sweet heavy stoned riffs. That’s what Bardo Pond deliver here in spades. Despite over twenty years of action, Bardo Pond show no signs of slowing down or losing their muse. Anybody who has not heard them but enjoys stoner rock, krautrock or psychedelic rock should really grab themselves a copy of this bad boy, I guarantee it won’t disappoint.
8.Suzuki Junzo – Eight Sided Infinity
Junzo has always been a fearless innovator, capable of making his guitar whisper and scream, but this year he really did turn our hair white. On this one he takes the classic VHF psychedelic speedfreak blueprint and shattered it spectacularly into a million pieces. The title track is a 15 minute collapse with legendary Tokyo drummer Ikuro Takahashi of Fushitsusha, LSD March, High Rise et al.
9.Moon Ate The Dark – s/t
A musical match made in heaven as this duo seamlessly blend classical music with avant garde experimentalism. The results are as fresh and original as they are beautiful. Both my wife and I are partial to insomnia, so a bedside CD player and a library of CDs that are great but contain nothing discordant or noisy are essential. This album has been a regular and faithful companion in the small hours many, many times since it landed.
10.Michael Begg/Human Greed – Dirt On Earth: A Pocket Of Resistance
This one landed on my doormatt during a heat wave and immediately eradicated my heat-discomfort with a wave of goosebumps. Human Greed made last year’s shortlist with the very collaborative “Fortress Longing” but here it’s nearly all the work of one man. The results of this solipsism is a sublime subliminal symphony of shadows.
11.Trouble Books – Concatenating Fields
A warm, beautiful album of electronic pop from another world. Trouble Books are highly skilled at both songwriting and creating sumptuous high-fidelity soundscapes. “Lurk Underneath” in particular feels to me like the sort of song the general public would fall in love if only we had some form of media that would share it with them. If you loved the soundtrack to “Drive” then here is its stoned cousin.
12.Om – Advaitic Songs
What started out as a simple bass, drum and vocal project echoing Black Sabbath has now mutated into something even more extraordinary. An eastern classical influence has melded into their work. Going even further than their previous album, 2009s “God Is Good”, Om are a strange and remarkable band.
Reissues, cassettes, compilations, EPs & Oddities
2.Colin Potter – Ancient History
Any other year, Colin would have topped this chart with this beautifully presented box set. Taking classic 80s tape releases and skillfully remastering them to CD, bringing this treasure trove of electronic innovation to a new audience.
3.Sleep – Dopesmoker
I know this is not the first reissue for this, the apogee of stoner metal, there have been a few over the years but this is the definitive version: glorious new artwork, the full length 103 minute version of the title track, full-fat mastering and a bonus track. Chugg riff heaven. Oh, and the fact that it is on Southern Lord seems particularly apt.
4.Natural Snow Buildings – Night Coercion Into Company of Witches
Startlingly dark and discordant three CD set, originally a very limited release from 2008. Very different from their current output, this epic set sees less of the folk influence and strange, heavy noise tracks with sitars and harmoniums. Getting a thank you on the sleeve notes was just the icing on the cake.
5.Listening Mirror – Resting In Aspic
Little 3″ CDs are a cute format but not suited to heavy listening. Here Listening Mirror brings together the highlights of his excellent back catalogue for one handy CD. Despite owning most of the releases already, this one went straight onto heavy rotation and stayed there all year.
6.Burial Hex – For Granted Is His Will
Strange, dark abstractions from Burial Hex. Each side of this cassette features one, long otherworldly session of noise and mood. Polish label Sangoplasmo delivered a whole string of astounding experimental releases throughout 2012, but this was the one I returned to the most.
7.Jooklo Danish Group – Mixture of Energies
One-sided glow in dark vinyl of free jazz mayhem so explosive that it melts your face. Only 200 copies and Holidays Records fiftieth release, making this a special object of desire. Jooklo releases always come live and fizzing but this special quartet just about dissolve your turntable. What else would you expect from a team-up of synthesizer, drums/percussion, baritone saxophone and amplified trombone?
8.The Cosmic Dead – The Exalted King
After what seemed like a long, long wait they finally came back with the follow up to their self-titled debut and it did not dissapoint. Big, epic, krauty space jams. The Cosmic Dead are clearly the UK’s answer to the likes of Acid Mothers Temple, Bardo Pond and Can. If they can keep the momentum of their first two releases going, then you are going to be hearing a hell of a lot more about them.
9.Conrad Schnitzler – Rot/Blau
When Schnitzler passed away in the summer of 2011, he left behind an intimidatingly large body of work. Whilst many know his work in Kluster and for the first Tangerine Dream album, the solo catalogue remains an underground secret. So, it was a timely reissue of two of the earliest Schnitzler solo albums from Hamburg’s Bureau B. Classic progressions in electronic and experimental music. Also a lot of fun to listen to.
10.Asio Otus – Taivaallisia Tulia
Wonderfully colourful psychedelic UFO music from Finland. Wildly eclectic but perfectly coherent, making it a joy to listen to, even when busted by a passing cyclist when I did the video review. German label SicSic were another label making ownership of a tape deck essential in 2012
11.Thurston Moore / John Moloney – Fundemental Sunshine
A selection of live jams between the axe of Moore and the sticks of Moloney that sets fire to your synapses and puts out the flames with absinthe. Somehow pitched perfectly between experimental wildness and exciting rock out action.
12.Ø+yn / The Failed NASA Experiment – split
The tapes really did seem to rule 2012 and this trans-Atlantic split pitched the ever unpredictable Failed NASA Experiment from the UK with the worlds most search engine unfriendly band ever from Argentina, a collective of audio-shamans conjuring phantoms out of soundwaves.